Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Renovations underway at Mackenzie Stadium

By Zachary Baru

There shouldn't be many more disputes about the name of Mackenzie Stadium in Holyoke, especially now that an enormous sign and logo has been placed on top of a new large scoreboard in left field.

Mackenzie Stadium, often referred to as Mackenzie Field, is much more than a field.  Especially now, that the venue and it's 600-seat grandstand has improvements such as the new scoreboard and a brand new infield.

The City of Holyoke has made many improvements over the years, including the fence and a new field last year (see "Renovations for Mackenzie Stadium key for Blue Sox, City of Holyoke, Western Mass. Sports Biz, March 2017.)  Come next season, Holyoke High and Valley Blue Sox fans will be able to enjoy a refreshed, modern look to the stadium.  The new scoreboard is purple for the colors of the Holyoke High School Purple Knights, and not only contains a large sign for the stadium, but it also has additional space for advertisements.

Mackenzie Stadium opened in 1933 and was home to the Holyoke Millers, a member of the "AA" Eastern League from 1977 through 1982.  In 2004, baseball once again returned to the Paper City, when the New England Collegiate Baseball League brought the Holyoke Giants to town.  

The franchise moved to Lynn, Massachusetts in 2007, making way for what was then called the Holyoke Blue Sox to come to the city in 2008.  The Holyoke Blue Sox changed their name to the Valley Blue Sox in 2014.

With a new infield and new large scoreboard in left field, Mackenzie Stadium continues to provide one of the best stadium experiences for baseball in Western Massachusetts.  It may not have the capacity of the newest minor league stadiums, but with its history, and now its improvements, Mackenzie Stadium is a special place to be able to watch baseball 85 years after it first opened. 

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at zachbaru@gmail.com.  Zach also writes for SportsBusinessBoston.com.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

As MGM Springfield’s opening nears, Thunderbirds look to see attendance hike

By Zachary Baru

With the opening of MGM Springfield less than two months away, many Springfield businesses are eagerly awaiting the positive effects from the $950 million resort casino.  The Springfield Thunderbirds are one of these such businesses, and are in prime position to have yet another successful season from the expected attendance increase.

As the Thurnderds’ home sits across the street from the casino’s main entrance, any home game will most likely see a fair amount of casino guests, either making their way to or from the casino.

MGM Springfield has been a good supporter of the Thunderbirds ever since the announcement of their new Springfield resort, and has always said the casino will help boost local entertainment at the MassMutual Center, Symphony Hall and City Stage.

This appears to be nothing short of accurate, as the Thunderbirds will be a very good addition to a casino that already seems to offer many entertainment options.  One example of this will be the Thunderbirds hosting the 2019 American Hockey League All-Star game, which comes at a perfect time for Springfield, within 6 months of the casino’s grand opening.

Sports and entertainment has always meshed well with casinos, and Springfield looks to be no different.  Both parties here seem to be in a key position to benefit from each other, helping to enhance the city’s entertainment offering.

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at zachbaru@gmail.com.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Just like the Red Sox "painted the town red" in 2003, the Thunderbirds do the same in 2018

By Zachary Baru

If there is one thing you can say about what the Springfield Thunderbirds have done since they were established in the summer of 2016, it's a sense of presence seen throughout the city. 

You can see it everywhere.  Their logo is everywhere.  Advertisements and banners throughout the city proudly show that this is Thunderbirds country, a strategy that teams have used for decades, and now brilliantly being used in our own backyard.

In 2003, the then-new Boston Red Sox ownership implemented a strategic marketing campaign to "paint the town red".  And paint the town red they did.  Within a matter of months, a much more streamlined and modern campaign of "Red Sox red" merchandise was available and being worn by many fans throughout the region.  Something somewhat similar is brewing here in Springfield.   

When the Thunderbirds came into town, there was a big need.  And that was support.  There was never a question of whether Western Massachusetts liked hockey, but there was a question of whether the region could support it. 

From the Boston Red Sox 2003 marketing campaign.
Fast forward to 2018, and the Thunderbirds' logo or banner can be seen everywhere.  Drive by Forrest Park, by MGM Springfield, or simply look at the car in front of you, it just might have a Thunderbirds bumper sticker, one of many that were distributed to fans since 2016. 

It is this excellent combination of traditional and grass-roots marketing that makes the Thunderbirds successful, and looks to lead to a bright future for the franchise.

The team has had commercials, both on television and radio, and even used billboards, but the marketing that can be seen everyday are the many logos that residents throughout the city see on a daily basis.  And regardless of whether you're a hockey fan or not, regardless of whether you are planning on seeing a game or not, you still are reminded of the Thunderbirds - a very important piece to the puzzle for any business.

It is this kind of marketing, in addition to an increased social media presence from three years ago, that will help carry the Thunderbirds into the future.  Just like the Red Sox "painted the town red" in 2003, the Thunderbirds are making their presence felt throughout the City of Springfield.

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at zachbaru@gmail.com.  Zach also writes for SportsBusinessBoston.com.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament: Fan experience high at weekend-long event

By Zachary Baru

UNCASVILLE - For most basketball tournaments, it is simple: you enter the arena, watch the game, hope you get on the video board, or take part in a contest.  But that is it.  It is completely confined to the venue itself - all about basketball, and usually like any other tournament.

From being at the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament these last two days, the division 1 basketball is just part of the experience.  The location, as any event, is a major factor in the enjoyment for the common fan.

This is why the Mohegan Sun Arena is a fitting choice for the tournament, and why Mohegan Sun provides more than just an arena for the games.

Sitting in the arena watching the games has been very enjoyable.  There has been amazing plays, close games, overtime, a buzzer-beater, you name it.  But its before and after the games that has also been enjoyable, something many other basketball venues just cannot provide.

For the fans, players, players' families, coaches and all of the media, Mohegan Sun gives those involved plenty of hospitality, and entertainment as well.

The 1,200-room luxury hotel is just steps away from the arena, giving teams, media and fans a convenient and quality place to stay.  Additionally, the resort offers a spa, restaurants, bars, clubs, shopping and entertainment such as the free Wolf Den and a comedy club.

Notice how one thing was not included in all of those options - that of course, was gaming.  Illustrating just how much there is to do in the resort.

This weekend has been, well, there's really no other way to put it... really fun.  It is what makes the Tip-Off Tournament special, and enjoyable for all fans.  It's more than the basketball, it's more than the venue, it's a good combination of both, making the Tip-Off Tournament a must-see for any basketball fan.

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and can be reached at zachbaru@gmail.com.  Zach also writes for Sports Business Boston.

Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament: As day 2 brings national coverage, Hall of Fame, Mohegan shine

By Zachary Baru

UNCASVILLE - Day 2 of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament highlights the true advantage of having a premier venue such as the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Attracting big name schools such as Boston College, Texas Tech, Northwestern and South Alabama, the 9,323-seat Mohegan Sun Arena provides the setting one would expect for a tournament to be broadcast over national airwaves.  Day 2 of the tournament will see two games broadcast nationally live on ESPN2, with the other two Sunday games streaming live on ESPN3.

For ESPN, this is the type of venue their viewers want to watch a game being played in.  For the Hall of Fame, this is yet another chance to showcase their brand nationally, and even globally.

A Basketball Hall of Fame logo can be found everywhere the eye can see.  On center court, under the baskets, on the benches, and on the scorer's table.  The arena is filled with Hall of Fame logos appearing constantly on the LED ribbon boards in front the balcony.  Even the center-hung scoreboard displays Hall of Fame logos and commercials throughout the game.

The tournament is win-win for both the Hall and ESPN, which broadcasts all eight games throughout the weekend between ESPN2 and ESPN3.

The tough part for the Hall of Fame, however, is filling the seats for the later games, and for Sunday's early game as well.  But throughout the resort at Mohegan Sun, fans can be seen everywhere, from the hotel, to restaurants, to the gaming floor, wearing Tip-Off-related merchandise.

Players, players' families, coaches, media, and fans fill the resort wherever you can look, turning Mohegan Sun into a basketball fan's paradise for Saturday and Sunday.  For the Hall of Fame, Mohegan Sun truly serves as a great venue providing the hospitality and atmosphere needed all weekend long.

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and can be reached at zachbaru@gmail.com.  Zach also writes for Sports Business Boston.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament: National broadcast coverage all weekend from ESPN essential to tournament

By Zachary Baru

UNCASVILLE - The 2017 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament returns to the Mohegan Sun Arena once again.  And besides having big division 1 programs such as Boston College, Texas Tech and Northwestern, the weekend-long national television coverage is especially important in creating a successful event.

Every game this weekend will be broadcast on one of the ESPN family of networks.  Both ESPN2 and ESPN3 will cover the event, with the ESPN2 televising two games on Sunday at 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.  ESPN3 will stream the other six games live.

Having every game broadcast live to a national audience is important to not only the financial side of the tournament, but also the tournament's marketing as well.  In order to create a national appeal and following, the games have to be seen in some way, and there is no better way to do that than with ESPN. 

ESPN3's coverage is also important because of the access that the platform provides.  ESPN3 can be streamed on mobile phones, online or on smart TVs, allowing plenty of fans worldwide the opportunity to see the tournament.  This is especially true for millennials, who often prefer to watch sports on their phone. 

For the Hall of Fame, being able to promote their brand to a national and even a global audience is very important.  The Tip-Off Tournament has transformed from a one-night event to a two-day, eight-game tournament being viewed all over the world.  For the Springfield museum, this is a weekend that can pay huge dividends in gaining worldwide attention.

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at zachbaru@gmail.com.  Zach also writes for Sports Business Boston.

Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament: Day 1 begins with crowds from near and far

By Zachary Baru

UNCASVILLE - The 2017 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament began Saturday drawing fans from all over, both regionally and nationally, in the first day of the weekend-long event.

With teams from Boston College, Texas Tech, Northwestern, La Salle, South Alabama, Maine, Sacred Heart and St. Peter's, fans traveled from well-beyond Connecticut for the tournament.  This was most apparent during game 2, when Northwestern faced La Salle.

One might think that an Illinois-Pennsylvania math-up in Connecticut would be dominated by La Salle fans, but the opposite proved to be the case Saturday afternoon.  The stands in the 9,323-seat Mohegan Sun Arena had plenty of purple, as the game turned into a virtual home contest for Northwestern.

It was clear how passionate Northwestern fans are, only adding to the excitement of a neutral site tournament.  Perhaps the number of supporters on hand helped, as Northwestern topped La Salle 82-74.

Every year at the Tip-Off Tournament seems to have a theme - one long-distance team seems to always bring in more fans than any other, many times more than some of the smaller-conference local teams.

No team, however, had more representation than game 1, when Boston College faced Texas Tech.  Plenty of BC fans made the trip down Interstate 95 to Mohegan Sun, in what was the largest attended game of the night.  While an official attendance was not available at the time of this article, it was clear that this game, even being the earliest of the four match-ups, was the highest attended.

The early afternoon crowd, however, was not enough to help BC, as the Eagles fell to Texas Tech 75-64.

Check back all weekend on Western Mass.Sports Biz, as there will be tournament coverage each day from the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru, and reached at zachbaru@gmail.com.  Zach also writes for Sports Business Boston.